With chart-topping hits, multiple album releases and 2007’s cult comedy “Hot Rod” under their belt, The Lonely Island has continued to prove why they are one of the best contemporary comedy groups working today. The trio’s pop music mockumentary, “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” starring their own Andy Samberg was released this past weekend. Just as 1984’s classic rock mockumentary, “This Is Spinal Tap”, lampooned the hard rock scene defining that generation, “Popstar” does the same for the pop radio hits we are currently force-fed. Using an entirely new album’s worth of music from the group to boot, this film is absolutely hilarious.
The film revolves around fictional pop music sensation Conner Friel (aka Conner4Real). The documentary-style storytelling gives a brief up-to-date introduction of his career beginnings and previous accomplishments. His original group, The Style Boyz (played by the Lonely Island members), was a successful pop group from years back. The movie picks up with Conner at the height of his solo career. One of his former group members is his DJ while the remaining member retired from music to take up the farm life. After his first album was a financial hit, he is awaiting the release of his second effort while preparing for the tour. Deciding to write all of the songs for the album himself, the dimwitted popstar is surrounded by music executives telling him what he wants to hear. From there, the hilarity ensues.
What makes this film so funny is how accurate the popular music scene is portrayed. Conner4Real is basically a parody of the current self-centered pop/hip-hop artists such as Justin Bieber or Kanye West. Because he is so full of himself and so overly-confident in his solo work, he denies the overwhelmingly negative feedback that his second album receives. The controversial songs released on the album don’t seem to faze him at all. Meanwhile, he is selling out with outlandish business propositions and multiple stage effects/antics on the tour are going terribly wrong which continue to hurt his reputation. At one point, his opening act becomes more successful than him. Samberg is so convincing in this role and you almost believe that this is the journey of an actual popstar despite the blatantly controversial songs and overall silliness of the film. It is his interactions with those working with him that allow much of the comedy to flow. There are scenes with obvious gags set up for predictable comedic outcomes, but a majority of those manage to land. Surprise cameos keep things unexpected and will surely get a laugh from the pop music fans. The music documentary formula itself is fully captured and parodied down to a tee with the rise and fall story of a musician trying to go back to their roots after a recent failure.
Despite the film’s many triumphs, there are times when the film begins to drag. Because it does such a wonderful job of capturing the feel of a documentary, it can also begin to lose momentum towards the middle when the overarching joke of the mockumentary begins to grow stale. Some of the gags or silly lines don’t always work. The middle of the movie begins to go on too long before it is reinvigorated by the change of pace brought forth in the funny final act. Much like an actual documentary, the audience can lose focus if the subject or the events surrounding them become repetitive or uninteresting. And with a movie that is under the average 90-minute runtime, that can pose to be a problem. Although I am not easily offended, there were two instances in particular that shocked me to the point of surprise rather than laughter. However, that can be seen as a positive by some if that is the intention.
I had a great time with this movie. It certainly is the “Spinal Tap” of our generation. The songs are catchy and memorable which mirror the function of today’s popular music. There were plenty of laugh-out-loud moments sprinkled throughout and it provides a wonderful commentary on the big music industry. Samberg’s dimwitted and silly persona went hand-in-hand with the character he portrayed. Though the second act began to slow things down, the last portion brought the film back to where it needed to be to end strong. If you are a fan of The Lonely Island or Samberg’s previous work, then you will undoubtedly find this to be gut-busting. I do warn those who are easily offended or those under 16 to maybe pass on this one. It is not a perfect comedy, but it accomplished everything it was striving for. “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” is playing in theaters everywhere. 4/5